Developing and Managing University-Industry Research Collaborations through a Process Methodology/industrial Sector Approach

Article excerpt

Introduction

A large proportion of universities in the United States and Europe have traditionally focused on undergraduate education, with a lesser emphasis on research. This has largely been the case since many of these institutions were founded (Bozeman & Boardman, 2003). There are, however, a smaller but significant number of universities where considerable research is undertaken. Such universities tend to receive research funding from a range of sources, including government organizations, charitable foundations, philanthropic donations, and industry (D'Este & Patel, 2007). This latter source is likely to include industrial funding for contract research, collaborative research projects, consultancy and technical advisory work, as well as the development of intellectual property through licensing of patents and other commercial activities (Perkmann & Walsh, 2007). The ability for universities to develop such commercial activities has a number of benefits; however, competition among academic institutions can be intense (Wimsatt, Trice, & Langley, 2009), and the success rate for proposals submitted to industry is often low.

The benefits for universities in undertaking commercial projects include access to additional financial resources to fund doctoral and post-doctoral positions; the potential to develop intellectual property; the provision of an application context for research (with application-specific data and information provided by the company); as well as the ability to generate research that results in journal publications and conference papers. Therefore, universities are increasingly interested in positioning themselves favourably with potential commercial partners and in converting research opportunities into funded projects that may ultimately lead to long-term, sustainable collaborations.

This paper describes a combined process methodology/industrial sector management framework that has been successfully deployed at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom to improve the research development process and the management of industrially funded research collaborations. This has been part of a systematic approach to increase the financial value of research contracts from industrial sources, to strengthen the academic base, and to diversify the sources of research at the university. The strategy has helped produce collaborative research programs at the university worth approximately 20 million [pounds sterling] over a five-year period. Although these projects have been funded by companies, and so can be regarded as a form of contract research, the actual funding has largely originated from government sources, and the research involves a significant level of collaboration between the company and the university; therefore, it is appropriate to regard these as collaborative research programs. The programs involve collaborative research with industrial companies in the UK, where the company provided funds to the university and the projects have been focused on the aerospace and defense (A&D) industrial sector.

This combined process methodology/industrial sector management framework is composed of two main platforms of activity (Figure 1):The use of an industrial sector or channel focus (sector platform), and the development and deployment of structured process methodologies to help facilitate research collaboration (process platform).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

The studies reported in this paper will not focus on the field of technology transfer (Siegel, Waldman, Atwater & Link, 2003), which more often

refers to activities such as licensing agreements, start-ups and joint ventures

University-Industry Research Collaboration

Globally, there is increased competition among academic institutions, as university research groups compete with their peers to receive funding from large industrial companies to undertake research and technology (R&T) studies. …